THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 8 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Action Violence, some Sexuality and Innuendo

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Directed by: Michael Apted

Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Bruce Feirstein

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise Richards, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench, Colin Salmon & John Cleese

The nineteenth entry in the Bond series and the tenth review in my 007 retrospective, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH is a movie that I actually had a weird childhood connection with. Though 2006’s CASINO ROYALE was the only Bond movie I had ever watched before starting this retrospective (in anticipation of SPECTRE), I played the Nintendo 64 version of WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH throughout my later years of elementary school. So while I had never seen this 1999 film, I had played its videogame counterpart enough to guess a basic outline of where things might head. That being said, I was excited to see if this third Brosnan Bond flick would hold up to his first two entries. To put it nicely, this was a disappointment…

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Sir Robert King, a high-profile businessman, has been assassinated inside of MI6. James Bond gives chase to the assassin, but is left in the dark as to why King was killed and by whom. As a result, MI6 assigns Bond to guard King’s daughter, Elektra. The culprit behind King’s assassination appears to be Renard, a chaotic terrorist who had previously abducted Elektra. Bond quickly discovers that Renard seems to be coming after Elektra for a second time and a deadly, destructive plan is set in motion. Aided by a most unlikely nuclear physicist (Denise Richards), Bond must race against the clock to stop a nuclear attack.

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The opening ten minutes of WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH speak volumes as to what kind of movie this is. We see Bond confront a Swiss banker, leap out of a building, witness an assassination, engage in a high-speed boat chase and then jump off an exploding hot-air balloon. As adrenaline-pumping and overwhelming as all of this sounds, none of these things come off as the least bit exciting. An apathetic approach towards the action is constant throughout most of the running time. However, there are a couple of ridiculous scenes that I enjoyed if only for their sheer absurdity. The best of these has Bond facing off against a helicopter equipped with saw blades. This sequence is just as stupid as it sounds, but at that point, I was taking any possible enjoyment that I could muster. The film also looks good (for the most part) with solid special effects and stunts, but sadly this cannot make up for a lackluster screenplay.

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I don’t know what happened between TOMORROW NEVER DIES (my pick for the most underrated 007 film) and WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, but it seems like Brosnan just stopped caring. When performed well, the character of James Bond can bring a level of fun and excitement to even the most preposterous script. In his third outing as the iconic secret agent, Brosnan seems bored. The only halfway decent performance in this movie comes from Sophie Marceau as Elektra King, but I saw her character’s whole story arc as forced and unbelievable. Denise Richards takes the spot of worst Bond girl that I’ve ever seen. She has no chemistry with 007 and her wooden delivery make all of her puns even more painful to behold. Finally, there’s Robert Carlyle as the scarred madman Renard. This Bond villain is just plain vanilla. He’s bland and the only unique characteristic to him is that there’s a bullet in his brain that makes him immune to pain. That being said, the final showdown between himself and Bond comes off like the actors are rehearsing for a fight scene as opposed to actually performing stunts in front of the camera.

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THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH is where Brosnan’s stint as Bond began to turn sour. The self-referential attitude is absent and the character of Bond has suddenly turned into another generic action hero. The qualities that made this long running franchise of spy movies so special don’t seem to exist within the confines of these 128 minutes. I was far more bored than excited. The action scenes (which should have been impressive, save for that lame final fight) somehow come off as dull. Sadly, WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH doesn’t pack enough of a plot or enough excitement to be remotely satisfying.

Grade: C-

TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 59 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Action Violence, Sexuality and Innuendo

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Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode

Written by: Bruce Feirstein

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Gotz Otto, Ricky Jay, Joe Don Baker, Vincent Schiavelli & Judi Dench

The eighteenth film in the Bond series and the ninth in my 007 retrospective, TOMORROW NEVER DIES wasn’t as well-received as GOLDENEYE by most critics and audiences. Color me surprised, because I absolutely loved this second Brosnan Bond film just as much as GOLDENEYE. In a franchise that has frequently used evil organizations, constant nuclear threats and a noticeably sexist viewpoint towards its female characters, TOMORROW NEVER DIES does something out of the ordinary. It’s so vastly different from the rest of the 007 series (in a good way) that I couldn’t help but appreciate every second of this eighteenth(!) Bond entry.

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After saving the world during an opening sequence, James Bond is saddled with yet another assignment (does he ever get a break?). His latest venture is to investigate narcissistic media mogul Elliot Carver. Carver’s newspaper was the first to report on the mysterious sinking of a British submarine. Bond discovers that Carver is intent on starting World War III in hopes that he’ll gain a stronger hold on the media and more power for his god-like complex. Bond is on a mission to stop the insane businessman, but Carver is also onto 007. A deadly, international game of cat-and-mouse erupts between the two with others caught in the crossfire.

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I already said in my review of GOLDENEYE that Pierce Brosnan wonderfully inhabits the old-school Bond that Connery made his own. That doesn’t change in this second outing with Brosnan in the role. The biggest stand-out is Jonathan Pryce as Carver though. He’s simply a fantastic villain. Though his plan to start WWIII might echo a certain earlier Roger Moore entry, his insanity and motives are wholly unique. The narcissistic attitude and smugness in which Pryce plays the part make Carver into a Bond villain unlike any other. He’s simply a lunatic with a massive complex and a most unusual view of world domination. What’s also notable is a distinct lack of a singular Bond girl for a majority of the running time. If you want to be technical there are two female partners with whom 007 teams up, but they come at different points in the movie and don’t necessarily qualify as main characters in my view. It was nice to see Bond up against a villain who was one step ahead of him for nearly the entire film. Unlike Sean Bean in GOLDENEYE (who served as a wonderful villain due to his familiarity with 007), Carver is just an insane genius who makes some pretty ballsy moves in order to outwit Bond.

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Much like GOLDENEYE, TOMORROW NEVER DIES uses familiar elements from older Bond flicks in a fresh way. A megalomaniac villain exists in pretty much every Bond movie to date. After all, who are you going to pit a seemingly invincible secret agent up against? An average small-scale bad guy or someone who wants to wreak global havoc? I think everyone would agree that the latter option will always be the better one. Besides a killer villain, TOMORROW also uses an extremely fast pace with tons of action. However, it doesn’t feel like it’s doing so merely for the sake of using bombastic special effects. Instead, the story ventures into remarkably darker territory (especially one scene in a hotel room) that older Bond movies wouldn’t have dared to go into. These plot points make for a more sinister and intense storyline. It all worked because I was hooked from start to finish.

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Thus far, the two Brosnan Bond flicks I’ve seen have shaken up familiar 007 conventions. Familiar plot points are adjusted with a modern flare that make for high-octane spy entertainment willing to take more risks than previous efforts. TOMORROW NEVER DIES really stands out as one of my favorite 007 films so far. It has a creative, original story when compared to most other entries in the franchise. Carver stands out as one of the most unusual villains in the series too. I was blown away by this movie and look forward to revisiting it many times in the future. TOMORROW NEVER DIES comes highly recommended as one of the very best Bonds.

Grade: A

GOLDENEYE (1995)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a number of sequences of Action/Violence, and for some Sexuality

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Directed by: Martin Campbell

Written by: Jeffrey Caine & Bruce Feirstein

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Joe Don Baker, Judi Dench, Gottfried John, Robbie Coltrane & Alan Cumming

The seventeenth Bond film in the series and the eighth in my 007 retrospective, GOLDENEYE brings a fresh-faced, modern take on Bond. It turns out that through studio disputes and (possibly) poor reception to Timothy Dalton’s previous outing (which is my pick for the worst Bond film I’ve seen thus far) was enough to sort of “reboot” the franchise. This 90’s Bond takes off with material that’s in line with the rest of the franchise and does so with an even more action-packed style. GOLDENEYE brought Pierce Brosnan to the screen as 007 and managed to be a big hit, both financially and critically. After watching it, there’s no surprise as to why that is.

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In the mid-80’s, oo7 and 006 (Bond’s partner and best friend) undertook a mission to destroy a Soviet biological weapon facility. The mission was an overall success, but 006 was killed in the process. Nearly a decade later, Bond finds himself on the trail of a super weapon that has fallen into very dangerous hands. This weapon is able to detonate locations from outer space and only one person has survived its power. The sole survivor is Natalya Simonova and Bond is forced to partner up with her. The search for the weapon will lead Bond to a sadistic murderer as well as a familiar face from the past (take a guess as to who that could possibly be).

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First things first, how’s Pierce Brosnan as Bond? Some people I’ve spoken with really don’t like him as the iconic secret agent, but I actually dig Brosnan’s 007 quite a lot. He seems to be taking the old-school Connery approach. By this, I mean that he balances a charismatic ladies man attitude with a likable action hero persona. I totally bought him as the character. However, certain Bond films are only as good as their villains and the baddie here is amazing. It’s not a spoiler (considering that most plot descriptions give more away than I will) to say that Sean Bean is impressive as a rogue agent. Seeing as Bean’s character was a former MI6 agent, it makes him a far more intimidating foe because he knows all of Bond’s tricks intimately. This also leads to tense confrontations and damn near impossible life-or-death situations that Bond finds himself trying to escape. Bean isn’t the only impressive baddie though as Famke Janssen plays a henchwoman who literally gets off on the violence she inflicts. Her scenes are both frightening and darkly hilarious in a really sick way.

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The Bond girl this time around comes in the form of Izabella Scorupco. I really enjoyed her performance as Natalya and she asks a question that few Bond girls have ever dared ask. She gets frustrated at the violence Bond inflicts and asks him why he must kill his enemy as opposed to merely thwarting and capturing them. This verbal bombshell gives her character far more development than most of the Bond girls from previous films. However, Natalya’s complaints fall on deaf ears as GOLDENEYE is pretty much constant action that moves a rip-roaring pace. The plot may resemble Bond movies of the past, but it’s executed in a bigger, better and smarter way. The Bond girl is a survivor of a horrific attack. The villain is a former friend of 007’s and not simply a cat-stroking, eye-patch-wearing madman. The weapon isn’t simply a nuclear bomb, but a threat that can hit from space. The sense of humor works with Alan Cummings playing an “invincible” hacker whose punchline is well worth a potentially annoying running joke. There’s also a fantastic chase scene in which Bond pursues the baddies through the city streets in a friggin’ tank (yes, you read that right!).

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The best part about GOLDENEYE is that it feels like a Bond movie that’s seen the rest of the Bond series. It’s not simply repeating well-worn clichés and staples in the series. Instead, it’s using the previous films to its advantage in keeping the viewer on their toes. The villain is well-aware of MI6 protocols and Bond’s personality, which makes him a more intimidating presence. There’s a Bond girl who actually is frightened and upset by the bloodshed around her, instead of merely shrugging it off as part of the battle. The whole plot is smart and thwarts expectations set by the series. Overall, GOLDENEYE stands as a fantastic example of why James Bond can survive various actors, over 20 films, and decades of pop culture. In the right hands, this material provides some of the best spy entertainment ever brought to the screen!

Grade: A

THUNDERBALL (1965)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Terence Young

Written by: Richard Maibaum & John Hopkins

(based on the novel THUNDERBALL by Ian Fleming)

Starring: Sean Connery, Adolfo Celi, Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter & Bernard Lee

The fourth Bond film and seventh in my 007 retrospective, THUNDERBALL is easily the most violent of the first four Connery entries. It’s also the longest, but remains fast-paced. Sadly, it also follows a basic outline of a story that we’ve already seen before and will see plenty of times again throughout the series. Bond is going after a villain that has a nuclear weapon. That sounds like the textbook motivation for most Bond villains and actually winds up as the biggest detriment to this film. Don’t get me wrong, THUNDERBALL is great fun, but holds little in the way of surprises for 007 fans.

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James Bond has confronted various SPECTRE agents through his previous adventures and finds himself face-to-face with yet another one. Emilio Largo (SPECTRE’s number two agent) has acquired two atomic bombs that he plans on selling to very bad people. Bond is tasked with taking Largo down. However, Largo is not the only SPECTRE agent he will have to contend with as another villain and a seductive villainess try to kill 007 along the way. Meanwhile, Bond also woos Domino, Largo’s mistress.

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Sean Connery is James Bond. I don’t feel the need to keep repeating myself in my reviews for his outings as 007. We all know he’s charismatic, suave and delivers comedic one-liners when bad guys bite the big one. None of that changes in THUNDERBALL. What is a bit of a downer is that Domino is a beautiful, but ultimately forgettable Bond girl. She simply shows up to be the damsel-in-distress and has a couple of seductive scenes with Bond. There’s no other reason for her existence. Though she’s gorgeous, Domino is one of my least-favorite Bond girls right next to Mary Goodnight (in MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN) and Pam Bouvier (from LICENCE TO KILL). The three SPECTRE agents serve their purpose of supplying entertaining showdowns and quippy dialogue exchanges with Bond. My favorite of three is Fiona Volpe who serves as (in my opinion) the most skilled and deadly of the bunch. The main antagonist is the eye-patch-wearing Largo and he’s pretty bland. Complete with a pool of man-eating sharks and a secret underground lair, Largo is your generic Bond bad guy.

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Much like its main villain, THUNDERBALL’s plot is generic. This feels like DR. NO with a couple of extra villains, more action, and a longer running time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, seeing that there’s still a lot of fun to be had while watching this movie. The opening scene features Bond taking out a SPECTRE agent in drag and then flying away on a jetpack. It’s a wonderful introduction to how crazy the action is this time around. Speaking of which, there are plenty of exciting and impressive sequences. One night-time scene in which Bond breaks into Largo’s base is especially well-done. My personal favorite moment comes in a deadly dance that was later spoofed in the second AUSTIN POWERS film. Finally, there’s an underwater finale that does run a bit too long (with two sets of divers fighting each other over the A-bombs), but also sports admittedly cool effects.

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THUNDERBALL is a fun Bond movie. There’s not much else to say about it. In my ranking of Connery’s 007 stint, this is behind GOLDFINGER and DR. NO, but ahead of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. The action is crazier this time around. The running time is longer. There are three SPECTRE villains, though that doesn’t exactly make for a better movie. THUNDERBALL is small on the plot, but big on the action. This is spy genre goodness that can still be very much enjoyed five decades after its release.

Grade: B+

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1964)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Terence Young

Written by: Richard Maibaum

(based on the novel FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE by Ian Fleming)

Starring: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Walter Gotell & Vladek Sheybal

The second Bond film and sixth in my 007 retrospective, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE came hot off the heels of DR. NO‘s success. Seeing that the first Bond flick made a huge splash both in Britain and overseas, the budget for RUSSIA was doubled and the story takes place directly after the events of DR. NO. While it maintains a steady level of entertainment, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is a little short on story and (once again) underutilizes an interesting villain. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, but this Bond sequel suffers from a case of “sequelitis” that plagues most follow-ups in cinema.

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In DR. NO, secret agent James Bond dispatched the title villain who was a member of SPECTRE (a top-secret organization of terrorists and high-ranking criminals). This second film finds SPECTRE unhappy with their Dr. No’s demise and looking to get revenge on James Bond. The evil organization recruits naïve Soviet cipher clerk Romanova to seduce James Bond. They also assign deadly assassin Grant to kill 007 in a particularly humiliating way. Bond is sent to meet the defecting Romanova by MI6 and finds himself tangled in a torrid romance…with SPECTRE watching his every move.

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It goes without saying that Sean Connery slips right back into the character of James Bond. I’m pretty sure that he could play this charismatic secret agent in his sleep. Connery’s performance is the best part of this sequel that can essentially be summed up in one sentence. It’s 007 walking into a trap. That’s the whole plot. However, the romance between Bond and Romanova is enjoyable to watch and especially risqué for this time period (considering that we almost see a full-blown sex scene between the two of them). Daniela Bianchi is enjoyable as Bond’s femme fatale and lover who begins to form legitimate feelings for her target. The action is more special effects driven this time around and the final third really packs in a ton of explosions and fights. One scene, midway through, features a gypsy camp erupting into fiery chaos and is especially impressive…though arguably more than a little politically incorrect.

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Aside from Connery’s Bond, the second-best part of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is Robert Shaw (who I mainly know as Quint) as the assassin hunting 007. Though he has notable moments, especially one tense showdown in a train car during the final third, I couldn’t help but feel that Shaw’s hitman was a tad underused. Just as much screen time (if not slightly more) is devoted to people pulling the strings at SPECTRE and I didn’t find any of them to be as interesting or intimidating as Shaw’s killer. However, the movie becomes totally entertaining for entirely unexpected reasons in the final third. Instead of being suspenseful, the movie goes into all-out campy territory in a good way. We get a faceless cat-stroking head of SPECTRE and Bond fighting an old woman (dressed as a maid) with a venous knife attached to her shoe. That scene is unintentionally hilarious, but fit right into the 007 franchise for the sheer absurdity of it.

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FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE suffers from typical problems that come with most movie sequels. As a direct follow-up to DR. NO and not fully a standalone feature (like many later Bond films), RUSSIA uses a flimsy plotline as an excuse to pack in some big action. The romance between the iconic secret agent and this Russian Bond girl is enjoyable to watch. Robert Shaw’s assassin is underutilized on the whole, but stands as a memorable Bond villain nonetheless. The innerworkings of SPECTRE are goofy to watch and the final third is pretty much made of camp. Taken as a whole, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is good, dumb fun. However, there are far better 007 films in the series.

Grade: B

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